Injury – Personal Injury – Breach of Contract – Breach of Duty of Care
Court of Appeal: Patten
LJ, Davis LJ, Underhill LJ
The claimant’s action for damages
for psychiatric injury from stress at work was dismissed by the Court of
The claimant was the High
Commissioner to Belize and in June 2008, a minister in Belize made allegations
of inappropriate behaviour and misconduct against the claimant. The claimant
was withdrawn from his post and suspended. He subsequently developed psychiatric
The claimant brought a claim both
in contract and in tort against his employers. At first instance, the court
held that the claimant had been unfairly withdrawn from his post, that there
had been a breach of contract and a breach of the duty by the employer and so
awarded for the claimant.
On appeal, the Foreign and
Commonwealth Office (‘FCO’) submitted firstly that the withdrawal of the
claimant from his post was not unfair and secondly that the claimant’s
psychiatric illness was too remote to allow him to recover compensation.
The Court of Appeal upheld that
the trial judge’s initial decision that the withdrawal of the claimant had been
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Defines the duties of the employer and the rights of the employee for stress at work
On the issue of remoteness, the court noted that, following Hatton v Sutherland  EWCA Civ 76,  ICR 613 to recover psychiatric injury from a breach of common law duty of care it must have been reasonably foreseeable that the employer's acts or omissions would cause psychiatric injury to the claimant. If the injury was reasonably foreseeable then remoteness would not be an issue.
However, in relation to claims based purely on breach of contract (whether implied or express), the test of remoteness would apply.
Despite this, the Court of Appeal found that the employer’s behavior, although unfair, was not troubling enough to have rendered it foreseeable that their conduct would lead to the claimant developing psychiatric injury. Such an injury would not usually be foreseeable unless there were indications to the employer that the employee was particularly vulnerable to psychiatric injury: Johnson v Unisys Ltd  UKHL 13  1 AC 518 followed.
A useful summary from the Court of Appeal on the test of foreseeability and remoteness in relation to psychiatric injury cases. A further warning for claimant lawyers that liability for ‘stress at work’ cases are exceptionally difficult to establish.
Joseph Carr & Jodee Mayer, Anthony Gold